What is Zoroastrianism?

What is now considered the modern part of Iran, there is an ancient, pre Islamic religion that dates back to the days of Persia. It can be found practiced within the more isolated areas of Iran, but also has a following throughout India. In India, the religion is referred to as Parsiism. In Persia, the religion is referred to as Zoroastrianism.


An Iranian prophet and reformer by the name of Zarathustra founded the religion during the 6th century BC. The founder is also referred to as Zoroaster in some texts. The religion presents both monotheistic and dualistic beliefs, accompanied by a notion of one God. Western religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam are thought to influence some of the teaching regarding the worship of one, judgment, as well as the concepts of heaven and hell.


The history of the religion begins with the Persian prophet, Zarathustra, who claimed at the age of 30 to have experienced visions of a God, who he referred to as Ahura Mazda. Ahura Mazda was known as the creator of all of the good things in life, possessing the worthiness to be recognized and praised. His visions marked a change towards the first non-biblical monotheist.


Zoroastrianism was observed as the official religion of the Persian Empire, but seemed to drop off the face of the Earth in Persia after the Muslim invasion, which took place in 637 AD. The numbers were counted at 10,000 survivors of the religion, who reside in remote villages in Iran. Throughout the centuries, a variety of religion that allowed the expression of freedom was the main goal of most in India.


The sacred text of the religion is called the Avesta, which is also referred to as the Book of the Law. Fragments of the sacred writings have survived throughout the centuries, but it is said that the Avesta was not in a complete form until the Sassanid dynasty in Persia, dating between 226-641 AD. When studying the Avesta, one would find hymns attributed to Zarathustra, which are called the Gathas. Invocations and rituals that were performed during festivals are mentioned, as well as hymns of praise. Another piece of the religion that is offered through the text are spells that were used against demons, as well as purity prayers.


When Zarathustra experienced his visions, he claimed to have been transported to heaven, where Ahura Mazda shared with him the identity of his rival, Aura Mainyu, who stood for and promoted evil. It was Ahura Mazda’s hope that Zarathustra would return to earth and encourage humans to make a choice between good and evil, essentially siding with either him or Aura Mainyu. Zarathustra approached the humans and showed them that it was possible to choose between right and wrong, as well as the truth and lies, light and dark. He preached that the choices that were made between good and evil would affect the way their eternal destiny would play out.


As for the afterlife, the good and evil deeds, words and thoughts that have occurred throughout a lifetime would influence the determination. When the number of good deeds are more than the bad, they will have heaven to look forward to. More evil deeds mean that hell awaits, but there are different degrees of wrongdoing that are taken into consideration. Zarathustra’s ideas concerning angelology, the resurrection of the body, as well as the messiah figure also influenced Judaism, Christianity and Islam to an unknown extent.